PROSPECT FOR UPGRADING ETHIOPIAN NETWORK TO THE INTERNET

Lishan Adam

CABECA Coordinator, UNECA/PADIS

P.O. Box 3001, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

lishan@padis.gn.apc.org

Introduction

During the last two years the academic community, individuals, few government institutions and major NGOs in Ethiopia were able to connect to electronic communication networks. Through the Fido link that was made available by the Pan African Development Information System (PADIS) these institutions were able to send electronic mail through the London GnFido gateway to the Internet.

PADIS played a major catalytic role in disseminating electronic network in the country. The networking group at Cleo (EEDN) and ESS were also a major promoter of the national academic network. The Addis Ababa university was connected to the global network during this process. Major research colleges outside of Addis Ababa still remain isolated. The value and benefit of the Internet is understood around communities where e-mail exists.

The vast resources of the Internet is not yet tapped in most African countries as a result of various socio-economic problems. In Ethiopia with estimated population of about 50 million with different culture and homogeneous education the growth of network would bring fundamental socio-economic development. Internet is not merely a need for the academic community communication but is also a tool for socio- economic transformation of the country.

The curriculum which was tied to and copied from eastern countries during the Derg left the academic community many years behind in the area of electronic networking and over all academic status. Unlike other African countries, the country's tie with socialist states where Internet was non-existent made the academic community to suffer from lack of communications. The education atmosphere did not create opportunity to innovative-ness which most networking and computing activities demand.

With the introduction of computers in the country another direction which did not invite more active computing emerged. There are three types of computing communities in the country:

- enthusiasts which get informal training and use computers solely for personal satisfaction

- dealers and computer training shops with goal of generating income by providing non-qualitative service or training.

- the academic teaching with good logical training and little room for innovativeness and design of applications

The proliferation of networks and the diminishing of isolated computing is forcing institutions to adopt LAN or WAN as the basis for their day to day computing. The above communities are trying to be linked or provide services in the area of networking.

Problems

To accommodate the need from computing community, to advance research and education in Ethiopia and to bring socio-economic and attitude changes full link to Internet is becoming a key. Some of the major problems which hindered full Internet connection to date include:

- high cost of leased lines which amount birr 40,000- 50,000/month.

- lack of a critical mass of trained UNIX experts (gurus).

- low level of understanding by the management (government, universities, international and donor organizations ) the benefits of a full Internet connection.

- lack of critical mass of Internet users as a result of low penetration of networking technology (this may be not a big problem in the future).

- lack of champions in the field of electronic communications (this is usually exasperated by lack of commitment or different political or other views).

- socio-economic and political problems of the country.

- education structure and low value accorded to overall information management,

transmission, exchange and use

- lack of cooperation between the telecommunications managers and the computing community due to lack of understanding of electronic networking in general.

- low spread of Local Area Networks.

Prospects

Against these problems there are opportunities for the computing community to get a full connection to the Internet. Interest to bring full Internet connection to Ethiopia was indicated by some recent visitors to the country. This shows that the potential market for Internet service providers in the country is becoming available. In addition to the business community (these groups usually do not know the local situation in the country), there are interests form the cooperative community to bring a full Internet connection to the academic community. Some of the promising signs include:

- experience in Fido technology and uucp which helped users to analyze and answer some of the questions such as: what is the Internet? What is possible? How full Internet can be achieved? etc..

- demands by users for more information, increased bandwidth, improved access, and better turn-around-time which means real-time connection.

- willingness of some NGOs and donors to share cost of initial Internet connection

- international and regional projects targeting the country which are assisting the building of all supportive infrastructure for the Internet.

During the last three years, there were three options which were proposed to get full Internet connection to Ethiopia.

a. Installation of leased channel or VSATs with full commercial solution through donor agency or commercial venture

b. commercial Internet services

c. infrastructure development for full Internet connection and link with little donor or commercial community intervention.

Evidently, the later option was promoted in Ethiopia and being implemented in some African countries. Infrastructure development involves the use a modular phased approach around free UNIX software and Local Area Network (LAN)s. An ethernet LAN can be built and connected to a UNIX server running TCP/IP protocol. Users on the LAN can Telnet or FTP the server to drop messages. The same configuration can be duplicated and interconnected to each other by dial- up (SLIP) or leased line, which in turn connected a UNIX host in the nearest country. During this process IP address can be obtained.

Investigation has already been made on the cost of 64kbps leased line to the nearest country where TCP/IP is available. A linux software was also acquired. As soon as the local user base is expanded to justify the cost of a leased line, with international assistance and ETA's cooperation a leased line can be secured to get full Internet connectivity.

To achieve the above goal there are a number of immediate tasks facing Ethiopian scientists and engineers at home and abroad. Some of the tasks include:

- improving the wide spread of Local Area Networks

- training users and computing community in UNIX communications

- applying for domain to the management of the Internet

- improving national connectivity using existing technology (use Fido and uucp technology as a last mile solution)

- sensitizing government and managers, policy makers at universities, NGOs, international and private institutions on the benefit of Internet (communication)

- developing a university (inter & intra) connectivity plan

- training and using business community abroad and local to support the development of communications

- encouraging the government to liberalize telecommunications, and the telecommunications managers to learn about networking

- improving research in engineering to embrace communication technology

- encouraging the university and academic computing for innovations and better application development, and local problem solving.

- improving commitment standards of all interested in assisting their country in this area.

- mobilizing resources wherever and whenever possible

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Disclaimer --- Ideas above are only mine!!!

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